In this section of scripture Jesus shows us the end of an age. He draws a very distinct line in the sand that separates two periods and also provides a spiritual insight into living in the two ages. These spiritual ages, not physical ones, and the transition from one to the next is important. It is possible to still be in either age even today, or even attempt to be in both at the same time which may be hindering your walk with Christ.
The End of an Age
Jesus is describing the end of the Old Covenant age and the beginning of the New Covenant age. He defines it quite clearly saying, “The law and the prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached.” (Verse 16)
This is a clear indication that the Old Covenant age ended in the time of John the Baptist. He was the last of the old prophets and also the first to preach the beginning of the New Covenant. He had a transitional ministry by telling the people to believe in the one who was to come, that is Jesus. (see Acts 19:4)
When Jesus came we then see him preach the good news of the Gospel and teach the New Covenant. The exact time when the transition took place and the New Covenant came into force was at Jesus’ death. One of the key symbols we see that shows the transition was complete was the tearing of the curtain of the temple from top to bottom when Jesus died. (see Matthew 27:51 and Hebrews 10:20)
But what about the Law?
Now this transition is a spiritual one and we know that the law was spiritual too. (Romans 7:14) But even though the Old Covenant age has ended, the law has not passed away. Jesus made the point that, “…it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one dot of the law to become void.” (Verse 17)
The law is still very much in effect today as it was then. A new age in the New Covenant has begun but the old is still in place too. It is important to understand that these two ages co-exists side by side, for a person may be in one or the other, but the scripture warns about the danger of being in both.
Can you Live in Both Covenants?
Many Christians believe that they are still under the law but have been set free from the condemnation of the law through the death of Jesus. They say that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins through his death, however they are still sinners.
The kind of thinking many Christians use is that they are sinners saved by grace. By this they indicate that although they are still sinners under the law, they no longer need to practice the sacrificial offerings under the law because Jesus became the perfect offering when he died for our sins.
Consider this; If Christ has paid for your sins how can you still be a sinner? John the Baptist stated, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” (John 1:29) So if Jesus has taken away sin, not just forgiven it but taken it away, can you still be a sinner?
But on the other hand if you are still under law, for Jesus said the law will not pass away until heaven and earth pass away, how is it possible to be free from sin or to have your sin taken away? Every time you break the law are you not committing sin, for that is what sin is; the breaking of the law?
So on the one hand sin is taken away under the New Covenant, but on the other hand we are still sinners because the law lasts until heaven and earth pass away. This is confusing and many Christians do not understand the way the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant works.
What is interesting in this section is that Jesus added in one more verse that seems totally out of place. He said, “Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” (Verse 18)
He has just been talking about the transition of the old to the new covenant and then throws in a teaching about adultery, which seems completely out of place. But it is not, for the message is not just about physical adultery, it relates also to spiritual adultery.
Just as a man or woman who divorces and marries another is adultery in God’s eyes, so too a person who is living in the New Covenant while the Old Covenant is still “alive” is living in spiritual adultery. That is, if you are still living in the law under the Old Covenant and trying to live under the teachings of Christ in the New Covenant, you are committing spiritual adultery.
When a man or woman is married and their partner dies, then they may remarry for the old partner is dead. (See Romans 7:2-3) It is the same with the two covenants. While the Old Covenant is still alive, that is, while you believe you are under the law and living under the law, and at the same time trying to follow the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you are like a person divorced and remarrying. You are trying to take on the new partner while the old partner still lives.
To overcome this spiritual adultery, the Old Covenant needs to die for you, or rather you need to die to it. While the Old Covenant is alive in you you cannot live effectively in the New Covenant for they are very different.
What is the difference in the two covenants?
To put it simply, the Old Covenant was about bondage. The Old Covenant gave us the law and showed us the difference between right and wrong. It showed man what he needed to do to live with God.
But at the same time the law condemned man for it showed that when a person failed to keep the law they were committing sin. In the law there was a constant reminder that man was a sinner, and under the law no person could ever become perfect for the law continued to condemn.
However the New Covenant is the Gospel of freedom. In it we can receive freedom from sin, freedom from law and freedom from all kinds of bondage. Under the New Covenant there is the promise of perfection, for the law could not make anyone perfect, but this is achievable through Jesus Christ. (see Hebrews 9:9, 10:1)
So in simple terms the Old Covenant was about bondage, sin and death, but the New Covenant is about freedom, freedom from sin and life. So is it possible to be under bondage and freedom at the same time? Is it desirable to be under both at the same time? No, it is not, which is why you need to die to the Old Covenant to take on the new. But how do we overcome this situation?
How do I die to the Old Covenant?
Jesus died for us at Calvary and we enter and take on his death through baptism. When we are baptised we are baptised into the death of Jesus and take on his death as our own. By taking on Jesus’ death as our own, which is part of the grace of God given to us, we die to the old covenant and we die to the law.
Paul wrote, “…law is binding on a person only during his life.” (Romans 7:1) Thus if you die you are set free from law, which is the Old Covenant. He said, “How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:2-3)
That is how and why we need to die to the law through the death of Jesus Christ. If we are to truly escape the law and escape the spiritual adultery of trying to live with the two covenants alive in our life, we will suffer. In fact Paul is as bold as to say that if you try to continue to live in the Old Covenant of law, then Christ is of no advantage to you. He said, “Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” (Galatians 5:2-4)
Do you want to be severed from Christ? Do you want Christ to be of no advantage to you? Of course not. So what must you do to ensure that you receive the fullness of what Jesus Christ offers in the New Covenant? You must learn how to be separated from the Old Covenant through the teachings and words of the Lord so that you can enter into his kingdom, freed from sin, freed from the law and alive to God. You must learn to live and to think as Paul wrote, “…you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11)
(Photo sourced from stock.xchng www.sxc.hu/ taken by Sigurd Decroos)